[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:44 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 3:44 pm, 27th January 2011

I thank the Select Committee for the report and pay tribute to Dr Phyllis Starkey, who unfortunately is no longer a Member of the House, for the work she put into chairing the Select Committee in the last Parliament, the quality of the report and the information in it.

Hon. Members will have heard what I said about the way in which the decent homes standard was brought in under conditionality of local authorities. We need to think about that process a bit more for the future because it seems grossly unfair that those authorities, such as Camden, that did not agree to establishing an ALMO or to stop transfers were punished as a result, with the necessary resources coming in much later. I absolutely endorse what my hon. Friend Heidi Alexander has said about how Lewisham appears to have been punished because it essentially achieved the right stars on the wrong date. The process is as arbitrary as that. The issue of the date and so on does not make a blind bit of difference. The reality is that somebody living in Islington in a two-bedroom high-rise flat will have achieved decent homes standard, but somebody living in the equivalent in Lewisham probably will not have done. Why not? It is simply unfair. The Labour Government put the money in for both those tenants to achieve the necessary standard. We need to think about that.

Having said that, the Government should think carefully about the long-term implications of the comprehensive spending review, the cuts that have been imposed and the problems that that will build up for future. I was a councillor in Haringey before I became a Member of Parliament. During the 1980s, we started the process of a post-1948 programme and improved properties considerably in both Haringey and Islington, where I became the MP. Gradually, central government money dried up, and the repairs and capital improvements budgets were cut back and back. We reached a situation where the only repairs being done were in cases where the tenant threatened legal action or took the council to court to require repairs to be done. It was essentially a solicitor's process. If someone could convince a court or a solicitor somewhere that their case was strong enough, the repairs would be done. It was a ludicrous way of doing things. By the mid-1990s, the repair backlog was absolutely massive, as my hon. Friend Mr Betts pointed out in introducing the report.

The decent homes standard is, by and large, a very big success story in that it has meant that millions of people have now got decent kitchens and bathrooms, roofs that do not leak, new windows that are energy efficient and often new heating systems and many other things. Again, on the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East made, the specific inclusion of communal areas and common parts in the decent homes standard programme has meant that whole estates have improved a great deal. The Andover estate in my constituency was not terribly well designed in the first place-as, indeed, many estates all around the country were not-but with intelligence and sympathetic ideas and investment in the common areas, that estate is now far better than it ever was. It has a decent open square area in the middle, better play facilities and good quality security. In return, levels of vandalism and socially divisive issues are much reduced. Investment does pay off.

If a huge backlog of repairs will be building up during the next five years or so, I dread to think what that will do to the self-perception of people living in those areas or, indeed, to the condition of the flats they are living in. Cutting housing repairs and housing capital improvement budgets is a self-defeating prospect. At the lowest level, if one does not clean out the gutters, eventually the roof gets rotten, starts to leak and so it goes on. Money spent on maintenance and repairs is money well spent.

I obviously represent an inner urban area. The make-up of my constituency is the mirror opposite to that of most of the rest of the country-the same would apply to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East-in that about 40% of the stock is council or housing association, about 30% is private rented and about 30% is owner-occupied. The fastest fall is in owner occupations and the fastest rise is in private rented. Within the private-rented sector, there are the most incredible levels of demand.

There are also issues with leaseholders, from both housing associations and local authorities-I take the point that my hon. Friend Kate Hoey was making-who sometimes feel quite justified in their grievance that the amount of money spent on capital works on a block seems wholly disproportionate to the benefit achieved from it. I never expected to become such an expert on the cost of renting cherry pickers, scaffolding and skips, and on the cost of sink units, windows and all that kind of thing. I do not mind that I am; I am quite happy to develop a knowledge and expertise in that area, but an awful lot of leaseholders have an incredibly close knowledge of such matters and they feel that they are being ripped off. There are all kinds of appeal procedures that cost everyone a great deal of money. Sometimes there needs to be much tighter monitoring of these contracts to ensure that everyone is getting value for money-both the tenants who will not necessarily be intimately aware of the intricate costs and the leaseholders who clearly are aware of the costs because they have a direct interest in them.